CHICHESTER’S Mike Kelly is hoping to beat a long injury nightmare and help Great Britain take on Australia at their own game - Aussie rules.
He has been put in the provisional GB squad for an International Cup battle against the Aussies in August, but first has to prove a troublesome knee can withstand the rigours of top-level sport.
Kelly, who works in management at Chichester Racquets and Fitness Club, first became involved in Aussie rules football when he was introduced to it by a friend while travelling in Australia, and since learning the basics he has gone from strength to strength.
He began his career by joining the Chichester University team before moving on to Portsmouth Pirates for a season. But ist has been tough reaching the highest levels in the wake of numerous injuries.
His first setback was when he dislocated his shoulder, requiring surgery. He was out for 18 months and went straight into England trials but his confidence was low after being out for so long.
After 30 minutes of his first game for Great Britain he broke his collarbone. Then in his first game back after that, he tore cartilage in his knee.
Kelly said his injury nightmare had continued since, too.
“I broke my middle finger the week before a GB game so I was out of that. Over the summer I had surgery on my torn cartilage - they removed the bit flapping around,” he said.
“Also, upon inspection they realised I have an osteochondral defect – which essentially is a hole in the cartiliage on the underside of the femur. It’s the same thing that the Spurs defender Ledley King had.
“With the help of the GB physio Claire Shapland and, locally, Sam Daplyn of PhysioWorld, I have programmes which allow me to train around the injury.
“Hard running is out of the question, so most of my training is based around strengthening the muscles supporting the knee. Cardio has to be done on a bike.
“I haven’t played a game this year. But I have been to a fitness testing and pre-conditioning weekend with GB at Surrey Sports Park to put my knee to the test. Turns out it’s not too bad! I finished highly in the majority of the testing.
Testing included height/weight/body fat movement screening (flexibility tests), agility, recovery, jumping, a 20m sprint test, an aerobic test, pilates and a recovery session, lifting techniques and a Q&A about programmes, nutrition and recovery.
“I’ve been put in the long-list squad for the International Cup in Australia in August. This will be taken down to a squad of 26 in Easter, based on performances in the next testing weekend in March and games in March and April against AFL London. Hopefully my knee will hold up.
“I have spoken to Sam at PhysioWorld regarding the possibility of injecting my knee to get me through the summer. The potential for this looks good. This will essentially be what a professional footballer does to get them through the end of a season to avoid having an operation mid-season.
“If the specialist decides to operate on me again, it will involve drilling up into the femur to stimulate blood flow and grow new cartiliage. It’s not ideal because I’d be on crutches for six weeks!”
This season Kelly will be playing for Southampton Titans – last year’s premier winners. Training started in January and they had 20 in attendance, excellent for a first session.
Kelly added: “We have several GB players in the squad, a couple of Aussies, and a Gaelic footballer, so we’re strong throughout.”
Information on playing locally can be found at www.aflengland.org or on the GB Bulldogs Twitter feed - @GBBulldogsAFL